Most athletes know that strength training is extremely important in helping to prevent injuries, maintain muscle tissue, improve bone health, and increase strength for better athletic performance. The problem for many of us is finding the time to do it. How do we fit in strength training sessions on top of our jam-packed schedule? The answer could lie in habit stacking.
Coined by S.J. Scott, the bestselling author of Habit Stacking: 97 Small Life Changes That Take Five Minutes or Less, habit stacking is the simple concept of adding new habits on top of existing ones. I’ve found this to be amazingly simple and effective, especially when it comes to strength training.
Habit Stacking and Micro Workouts
Here’s a simple example of habit stacking. In order to include calf raises in my regular routine (the benefits of which include better stability and balance, reduced risk of ankle and knee injury, and better agility when running), I “stacked” them with brushing my teeth every day. So every morning I do 15 single-leg calf raises three times on each leg while I’m brushing my teeth. This ensures I get the micro workout done — and I know I’m brushing thoroughly, too!
By stacking a new habit on top of an existing one, you are, quite simply, more likely to do it. In roughly six weeks, this new “stacked” habit will become routine. The key is making habit stacking as simple as possible. Think of easy wins, like:
- Doing 3 x 15 squats when you’re making the morning coffee.
- Doing 3 x 10 countertop push-ups when the oatmeal is in the microwave.
- Doing a set of sun salutations when your favorite show comes on.
- Planking whilst your Garmin finds satellite lock!
While these micro workouts may seem trivial, they’re actually incredibly beneficial in the long run. Real fitness adaptation occurs when there’s consistency over a long period of time, which means that doing daily micro workouts will often lead to better results than the inconsistent gym visit you rarely fit in once a week.
Why Habit Stacking Works
The reason habit stacking works so well is that your current habits are already built into your brain. You have patterns and behaviors that have been strengthened over the years through consistent repetition. So, by linking your new habits to a behavioral pathway that’s already built into your brain, you’re more likely to stick with the new behavior.
Habit expert James Clear offers a straightforward habit stacking formula in his New York Times bestselling book, Atomic Habits, that’s worth keeping in mind:
After/Before [CURRENT HABIT], I will [NEW HABIT].
Use this formula to piggyback off of your current positive habits. Examples include:
- Before I go for my daily ride, I will do a few quick glute strengthening exercises OR After I put on my cycling kit, I will do a few quick glute strengthening exercises.
- After I get back from my daily run, I will do 5 minutes of core work OR Before I take off my running shoes, I will do 5 minutes of core work.
Once you have mastered this basic structure, you can begin to create larger stacks by chaining small habits together. This allows you to take advantage of the natural momentum that comes from one behavior leading to the next, ensuring you get your strength training done every week — or even every day.
Of course, habit stacking isn’t just useful for strength training. It’s a wonderfully simple way to incorporate new, positive behaviors into your life — whether that’s cooking more, taking a bit of time to meditate, or adding in that much-needed mobility work. So, what new patterns do you want to develop? How will you stack those with your existing, positive habits?